Blackwater USA, 9/7/2009

The Applicant Questionnaire for Blackwater USA is chilling. It starts out simply enough: name, languages spoken, qualifications. Then it asks which major airport is nearest to you. Then it wants to know which weapons you are qualified to use. (The list of weapons, by the way, is listed alphabetically from an AT-4 to a shotgun.)

This is no ordinary application.

Blackwater USA, owned by Erik Prince (American, Evangelican Christian, former Navy SEAL), has been in the news frequently over the last year. The company was hired by the US government as a contractor, to aid in the war in Iraq. Blackwater has been called a “mercenary” company of “war profiteers.” In fact, the company’s structure is very similar to that of the American military. Blackwater recruits pilots, police, mechanics—even plumbers. It claims to train more efficiently, working with “military, security and law enforcement professionals as well as civilians.” Many of its employees are former members of the military—the freedom fighters.

However, unlike the military, Blackwater hires from countries outside the US (and sometimes hostile to it). Also, it’s not shy about being part of the engine of war. The Blackwater USA website presents each visitor with a scrolling slideshow of images of people holding guns, working with muzzled German Shepherds, and crouching on a firing range. Compare this with the US Navy website, which shows a pair of women sitting at a conference table, a helicopter landing on an aircraft carrier, and Marines doing construction in Tarawa. The US Army website mainly features photos of soldiers getting H1N1 vaccinations.

It’s as if Blackwater represents the ugly side of the military, that part that does the nation’s dirty work. This isn’t a marketable aspect of the military—their emphasis is on patriotism, teamwork, and a hand up to better things. The business of overt violence is farmed out to a contractor—and Blackwater is portrayed as attracting wingnuts who are itching to fight, instead of recruits hoping to find a career and earn money for college. This unapologetic, unmasked attitude towards violence is what makes the Blackwater application so jarring. It asks, Are you willing to kill? Have you killed before?

And why is admitting this—weapons proficiency, combat experience, and the willingness to do it for money—all it takes to change a soldier from a uniformed “freedom fighter” to a contracted “war profiteer”? Where is the line between duty and exploitation? CRF

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